Political science emerged as a university discipline in the late 19th century. Students in this field learn about political systems and how government works, which prepares them to conduct research, analyze data, forecast trends, and develop policy. While earning an online master’s in political science, students gain practical skills that apply to careers in business, law, journalism, education, and the nonprofit sector.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects strong competition for political scientists, with salary potential remaining high. The median annual wage for political scientists is $115,110, with the top 10% earning more than $161,890 per year. These figures rank political scientist among the 20 highest paying occupations in the United States.
Choosing a Program
Students earning an online political science master’s degree explore political science and its subfields at an advanced level. Core courses prepare them to apply political theory and analysis, perform research using qualitative and quantitative methods, interpret data, and develop and promote effective public policy. While core coursework required for online master’s in political science degrees provide a foundation in the field, coursework in subfields allows students to focus on an area of interest. Popular subfields include American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory.
The subfield of American politics focuses on elections, party politics, social activism, and the country’s central political and governmental issues. Comparative politics examines the U.S. in relation to the rest of the world through different research methodologies. The international relations subfield, also called global politics or international affairs, focuses on economic trends, interdependence, and America’s place in the international system. The political theory subfield inspects the concepts that have shaped politics, political philosophy, and political discourse throughout history. Most online political science master’s degree programs culminate in applied research, either a thesis or a research paper.
For career information, skip down:
- What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master’s in Political Science Program?
- Online Master’s in Political Science Careers
- Accreditation for Online Master’s in Political Science Degrees
- Professional Organizations for Political Science
Online Master’s in Political Science Degree Program Ranking Guidelines
We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.
What Are the Best Online Master’s in Political Science Programs?
1. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Based in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech remains one of the state’s flagship universities. Though the school focuses primarily on research and technology, Virginia Tech also offers many of its undergraduate and graduate programs online through its virtual campus. The school’s online political science master’s degree caters to distance learners, enrolling 67–70 online students and 10–15 on-campus students each year. Offering online courses since 1995, Virginia Tech allows students to complete all coursework in the political science program asynchronously.
Students can complete the 30-credit program in four semesters by taking three courses each term. Foundational courses include research methods and contemporary political theory. Each student must also complete and defend a thesis. Most online students opt for a part-time course of study, taking one course per semester and earning their degrees in eight semesters. The political science program offers flexibility in elective course options. These courses can include global conflicts, transnational migration, and the politics of developing areas. Students who still need to complete an undergraduate degree can pursue an accelerated bachelor’s/master’s program.
Out-of-state online students pay a higher tuition rate than in-state students. Applicants must have earned a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 and submit GRE scores. Students can apply for admission to one of four start dates throughout the year.
Virginia Tech is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCC).
2. University of Illinois at Springfield
The newest member of the University of Illinois system, UIS offers many of its programs online. The school’s online master’s in political science aims for convenience above all, never requiring students to attend on-campus courses in Springfield. That flexibility extends to the program’s coursework. The curriculum caters to students from various academic backgrounds, including students who want to teach, work in politics, or continue on toward an advanced degree. Online students can choose a concentration in public law, comparative politics and international relations, or American national and state politics.
UIS delivers online courses both synchronously and asynchronously through Blackboard. However, since most of UIS’s students also work full time, most of the school’s online programs record professors' live lectures and allow students to view them at their convenience. The political science program’s 40-credit curriculum includes core studies, such as methods of inquiry and introduction to the graduate study of politics. All students must also complete an internship and a closure exercise, in which students choose between a case study, a comprehensive examination, or a thesis. Each student receives an initial adviser and eventually chooses a permanent academic adviser from the political science department’s tenure-track faculty.
All applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree, proof of background in a related field, and a GPA of at least 3.0. Students who do not meet these requirements can apply for conditional admission. Students who have not completed a statistics course must do so at UIS.
UIS is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
3. Sam Houston State University
Based in Huntsville, Texas, SHSU is one of the oldest universities in the Lone Star State. SHSU also holds membership in the Texas State University System and currently enrolls over 20,000 students, many of whom take courses online. SHSU’s online master’s degree in political science offers strong distance learning courses that cater to both recent college graduates and professionals working in political science. Graduates of the program teach in high schools and community colleges, find work in the nonprofit or public sectors, or continue on to further studies in political science or law.
The program’s curriculum consists of 30 (thesis option) to 36 (non-thesis option) credits, and students never have to visit campus in Huntsville for any reason. Required courses including American politics, comparative politics, and international politics. Students choose elective courses to complete their remaining credits.
The program accepts students for fall, spring, and summer start dates. Out-of-state online graduate students pay a slightly higher tuition rate than in-state residents. All prospective students must have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 and submit GRE scores. Applicants must also include an academic or professional writing sample and two letters of recommendation.
SHSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCC).
4. The University of West Florida
Based on the Florida Panhandle in Pensacola, UWF’s campus sits on a nature preserve, bordering a bay and two rivers. However, distance learners never need to visit campus to earn their political science master’s online at UWF. Students in the program choose between specializations in political science (generalist) or security and diplomacy. With either path, the 33-semester hour curriculum includes a distinct focus on public policy, international relations, and comparative politics. The curriculum includes six core courses, including seminars in comparative politics, international relations, political theory, and American politics. Students must earn at least a “B” in five of the six core courses to continue in the program.
Once students meet the core course requirement, they choose between a thesis or a comprehensive examination as a concluding experience. Students enrolled in the generalist specialization have free choice in their electives, while students enrolled in the security and diplomacy specialization must complete relevant coursework. UWF delivers all program coursework synchronously.
Students who do not live in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties may apply to the online version of the program. The program does not operate in every state, so prospective students should check UWF’s state authorization page before applying. Applicants must have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 and submit GRE or MAT scores in the 50th percentile or higher.
UWF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCC).
5. University of Nebraska at Omaha
Based in Omaha, UNO is the metropolitan branch of the University of Nebraska system. UNO caters to distance learners nationwide, including students earning a master’s in political science online. The 30-credit, interdisciplinary program allows students to take up to 12 credits in other fields, such as communications, social work, and economics. The curriculum consists primarily of seminars, offering content seminars in areas like U.S. foreign policy, international relations, American government, political theory, and political science methodology. Students choose between a capstone project or a thesis as a concluding experience. UNO delivers all program coursework asynchronously.
Students can choose an optional concentration in international affairs or optional certificates in global information operations or intelligence and national security. UNO graduates work in diverse fields, such as law, academia, journalism, education, government, and the nonprofit sector. All students in the program gain access to one-on-one academic advising and online library services.
As a proud member of the University of Nebraska system, students with in-state residency pay a lower tuition rate than out-of-state residents. All applicants must have already earned a bachelor’s degree with at least 15 hours of political science courses (including statistical methods) with a GPA of at least 3.0. Students are not required to submit standardized test scores. The program accepts students for the fall, spring, and summer terms.
UNO is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master’s in Political Science Program?
Students earning a master’s in political science online receive advanced training in political science theory, research, and methodology. An online political science master’s degree is interdisciplinary and includes studies in areas such as sociology, law, and economics. Required classes vary by school, but the courses below are common to most political science programs.
The Curriculum for an Online Master’s Degree in Political Science
- History of Political Thought: This course typically covers certain periods of political thought, from ancient Greece to medieval Europe. Learners study the major political theorists of the time and explore similarities between past and present. Political scientists and professionals in public policy draw on the comprehensive understanding of political thought and theory this course provides.
- Methodological Tools: This course presents the essential tools that political scientists, survey takers, data analysts, and researchers use in formal and quantitative work. Students explore the mathematics of political science and study topics including linear algebra, statistics, probability, limits, functions, continuity, and concepts central to mathematical models such as game theory and econometrics.
- Seminar in American Politics: This seminar examines a specific aspect of U.S. politics, such as political institutions, the political party system, political behavior, or economic inequality. The seminar challenges students to think critically about major questions related to the topic and to reach logical conclusions.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Political Science Prepares For
- CPS Certification: For more than 20 years, the Academy of Certified Political Analysts has promoted graduate standards for certification in politics and political analysis. Applicants must hold an accredited advanced degree in politics (such as an online master’s degree in political science), must have completed at least 18 hours of political science and legal courses, and must have a 2.5 GPA and at least two years of political, governmental, or public service experience.
- Political Science Endorsement: Prospective educators must hold at least a bachelor’s degree for this endorsement. However, educators must hold an advanced degree, such as an online master’s degree in political science, to teach American history or political science at the secondary level. Teachers who work with lower grade levels can also apply for an endorsement in political science to improve their job prospects.
Online Master’s in Political Science Careers
After earning an online master’s in political science, graduates apply their skills and knowledge to careers in a variety of fields and sectors. Graduates of master’s in political science online programs have strong communication, writing, and analytical skills, along with data expertise and the ability to think independently. Professionals with advanced political science degrees often work in politics and government, but many secure positions in law, advocacy, business, journalism, education, and the community sector.
Political Scientist: Political scientists work in the government, for think tanks and nonprofits, in the media, and at institutions. They conduct research on a variety of subjects and incorporate disciplines such as economics, sociology, philosophy, and civics. Political scientists must hold an accredited advanced degree, such as an online political science master’s degree or Ph.D.
- Median Annual Salary: $115,110
- Projected Growth Rate: 3%
Journalist/News Analyst: An online political science master’s degree provides the substantive background and analytical skills necessary for careers in journalism. News analysts, also called news commentators, must possess authoritative knowledge in their area of expertise, such as public policy, international relations, or elections.
- Median Annual Salary: $40,910
- Projected Growth Rate: -9%
Survey Researcher: Survey researchers design and conduct surveys and analyze quantitative results. During election season, survey researchers and pollsters track voter preferences and attempt to forecast results. An online political science master’s degree prepares graduates for positions involving formal, systematic research.
- Median Annual Salary: $54,270
- Projected Growth Rate: 2%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Accreditation for Online Master’s in Political Science Degrees
Accreditation indicates that a school meets or exceeds standards of quality. Regional and national accrediting bodies award accreditation after a voluntary peer evaluation. In addition to assuring students they receive a quality education, accreditation impacts transferability of earned credits and students' eligibility for federal financial aid. Because many employers require candidates to hold degrees from accredited institutions, prospective students should ensure any school they consider holds accreditation.
There are two types of institutional accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation is the older and the most highly regarded of the two. Six regional accrediting bodies award accreditation to nonprofit, degree-granting institutions. For-profit, single-purpose schools often receive national accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recognizes all six regional accreditors, but does not recognize all national accreditors. To qualify for federal financial aid, students must attend a school with accreditation from an ED-recognized accreditor. Students can search the ED’s database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs.
Professional Organizations for Political Science
Professional organizations work to further a field or discipline, and membership in these organizations help graduates advance their careers. Professional organizations offer networking and professional development opportunities, while advocating for members in the field. For students and recent graduates, professional organizations also provide information and resources such as job boards, professional contacts, and scholarship opportunities.
- American Political Science Association: Founded in 1903, APSA serves more than 12,000 members and cultivates a deeper understanding of politics, democracy, and citizenship. Members have access to a political science scholarship and a variety of programs and services for individuals, departments, and institutions.
- International Political Science Association: Founded in 1949 under UNESCO, ISPA is an international scholarly association devoted to the global advancement of political science. With 54 national members, ISPA strives to create an accessible, worldwide community for political science professionals.
- Association for Political Theory: Since 2000, APT has promoted the study of political theory and philosophy in North America. The organization works to advance scholarly interaction among political theorists, educators, and researchers. APT hosts an annual conference on political thought.